SEATTLE — Brady Clark remembers the day he first saw his future wife, Cristin, a striking blonde, at the curling club in Grand Forks, N.D.
His first thought: “Wow, she sure is pretty.” His second thought: “Wow, she’s a curler, too.”
The two soon struck up a friendship, started dating a few weeks later, were engaged within six weeks — he popped the question on the ice, sliding toward her as if to release a curling stone, except his outstretched hand held a diamond ring — and were married the following summer.
That was 13 years ago and since then the Clarks, who live in Lynnwood, have added one child — 9-month-old son Sean — and many mixed curling championships. The couple’s tally includes a national collegiate title while attending the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, nine United States mixed curling championships in the last 11 years as part of four-member teams, and three two-person U.S. mixed doubles titles in the last five years.
One of the few championships the Clarks have yet to win is a world title, but they will have that chance later this month when they compete at the 2012 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship, April 23-29, in Erzurum, Turkey.
The tournament includes 27 nations, “and only three get medals, so if you look at it statistically we’ve got a one-in-nine chance,” Brady Clark said. “But if we play well I think our odds are 50-50 that we can medal. But we have to play well.”
Curling is an Olympic sport, but only as contested by four-member teams for both men and women. But there has been talk of adding mixed curling, and if it happens the Clarks will be ready. They have been a dominant twosome in this country, helping to win every four-person U.S. mixed curling title from 2002-2012 except 2004 and 2008, and the U.S. championships in mixed doubles (which began in 2008) in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
And the funny thing is, Brady Clark predicted all this shortly after he and Cristin began playing together.
“Even before we won the college nationals, I remember telling Cristin, ‘You know, we could win a lot of national championships together. And I don’t see just one. I see many. Double digits at least.’”
Said Cristin, “I was thinking just one would be incredible.”
They play and practice at the Granite Curling Club in north Seattle, one of the few dedicated curling facilities on the West Coast. With Sean in tow, the Clarks show up to play and practice several days a week, and they are both equally passionate, equally determined.
“Our life is a lot about curling,” Brady Clark said. Even away from the club, “we talk strategy. We talk about what it takes to win. And we wake up on the weekends and watch curling (on television).”
“I think part of (the couple’s success) has to do with being married,” Cristin Clark said. “Brady and I are both totally into it. We have a common interest, and we’re always pushing each other and supporting each other. We have this in common and we want to be doing it together.”
There is, of course, the possibility of occasional husband-and-wife friction on the ice, but those moments are infrequent.
“The two of us just work well together,” Brady Clark said. “We just kind of know what the other person is thinking. We know what to expect from each other and how the other one handles pressure, so it just seems easy. We don’t even have to talk about that stuff.”
Being married “just makes it that much better,” he added. “It works perfectly for us. And it doesn’t get awkward because we’re able to stay positive. Cristin keeps it real positive, and I do most of the time.”
At their first world mixed doubles championship, held in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2009, the Clarks failed to advance to the later rounds and finished with a ranking of 16th. In 2011, at St. Paul, Minn., and with Cristin 6½ months pregnant, they ended up ranked seventh.
And it will probably be no easier in Turkey this year. Canada is a usual contender, given that curling is hugely popular in that country, though the favorites appear to be Switzerland, Russia and Hungary.
That said, “I’m fully expecting that if we play well we can medal,” Brady Clark said. “And I don’t want to just medal. I want gold.
“It’s going to be great competing against the best teams from around the world, and it’s fun to compete with Cristin,” he said. “And not only that, getting to do it in a new country will be neat. So this (trip) will definitely be exciting, but it’ll be even more exciting if we can win a medal.